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After NOD, focus should not be on REMS, but on irresponsible drinking

By Brian Baran     11/8/12 6:00pm


Eleven students were hospitalized at this year's Night of Decadence. That is the story spreading across the country - and even internationally. But it is only a small part of the story, and it is perhaps the least important part. I could write a diatribe about the media's general failure to provide the necessary context for stories and how that failure represents the prioritization of selling sensational headlines over maintaining journalistic integrity, but that, too, is only a small part of the story, and it is relatively unimportant. Instead, I will focus on what is truly important here: What this says about the drinking culture on the Rice University campus and where we, as a community, need to focus the discussion on how to move forward. 

The headlines drawing attention to the 11 students hospitalized following NOD focus on the wrong aspect of the situation which led to the hospitalizations. That they were hospitalized is a good thing; that they were drinking irresponsibly is the real problem. On the surface, this may seem like an issue of semantics, but looking deeper, the distinction is far from trivial. It is a distinction between a problematic behavior and a commendable response, between something to be discouraged and something to be encouraged, and between a culture of irresponsibility and a culture of care. 

Focusing on the number of students hospitalized is dangerous both to the health of individual students and to the progress we have made as a community to establish a culture of care and to handle issues with alcohol safely and responsibly. By using the number of students hospitalized as a measure of a party's success, we undermine the work we have done to spread the message of Rice Emergency Medical Services amnesty - we discourage students from seeking medical treatment for themselves and their friends. That students are seeking medical treatment is commendable. But when we frame the conversation in terms of the number of students hospitalized, we send the opposite message. 

We should view the REMS transports that occurred at NOD as a positive thing. They demonstrate that the culture of care is working, that members of our community are actively looking out for each other, and that Rice students are seeking help when they or their friends need it. Without this culture, these students may well have suffered from more serious illness or even death. I think we can all agree that 11 transports are better than one death. While some may question whether these students truly needed to be hospitalized, being overly cautious is better than not being cautious enough. 

The important aspect of these events is that the students involved got to the point where REMS needed to be called in the first place. It is in irresponsible behavior with regard to alcohol that the problem lies, not in our response to that behavior. While irresponsible drinking is to some extent inevitable given that this is a college campus, we should not simply accept the argument that "This is just what college students do," and move on. We are better than that. While irresponsible drinking is to some extent an individual decision, it is also a decision influenced by the drinking culture on campus. We are influenced by those around us in many ways. 

If irresponsible drinking is socially unacceptable, it is less likely to occur. But right now, some students are pregaming the pregame and collapsing at the public party - or before they even make it there. 

It is unlikely that we can completely eliminate irresponsible drinking, but by extending our culture of care to be as preventive as it is reactive, we can make an impact. We need to make a concerted effort as a community to create an environment in which people are less likely to get so intoxicated we need to call REMS or hand them off to caregivers. Rather than just cleaning up the mess - both literally and figuratively - after students pregame the pregame and get sick, we need to ask ourselves how we can discourage students from doing so in the first place. Rather than just accepting the fact that some students will drink so much at the pregame they won't make it to the public party, we need to ask ourselves what we can do about it. 

Part of the solution lies in better control over the alcohol at private parties. Enforcing the drinking age is not the only reason students cannot serve themselves at a public party, at Willy's Pub or at a bar. Servers and bartenders are expected to turn away not only those who are not of age, but also those who are too intoxicated. Designating someone to serve the alcohol - even at a private party - is an important step toward helping students drink responsibly. I am not recommending that private parties have Student Judicial Programs-certified servers; the solution need not be so formal. A small group of friends having a few drinks need not set up a bar, but they should consider designating someone to be responsible for pouring the drinks and cutting people off when they have had enough. 

At a larger private party, the host should set up a bar area and staff it with a server, thus removing the decision of whether to consume more alcohol from those whose judgment is impaired and who are therefore least capable of making that decision. Concerns have been raised about the ineffectiveness of freshmen filling this role for service points - concerns with which I wholeheartedly agree. A server at a private party should be either the host, who already has a vested interest in the party staying under control, or an upperclassman. 

This is just one possible step we can take toward a solution. Surely the solution will need to involve more than just this one change - and this change is merely a suggestion. While I believe this suggestion is an important component of a working solution, the possible solutions are numerous and varied, and surely some excellent, comprehensive solutions exist that solve the issues at private parties a different way. As a campus community, we must work to generate ideas that can be implemented in the short term and have both an immediate and lasting effect. We must all participate in a discussion as to what steps we can take both as individuals and as a community to improve the alcohol culture on campus and solve our problems in a way that is consistent with Rice's residential college system and ideals of student governance. 

The bottom line is that we need to be looking out for our friends and fellow students not only to make sure they get help when they need it, but also to make sure they do not need it in the first place. The question after an event involving alcohol should not be how many students went to the hospital, but how many students needed to go. And the discussion our campus community must now have is how we can reduce that number - how we can drink more responsibly, not just as individuals, but as a community. Instead of just saying we are better than the image presented in the media and better than other schools, we need to prove it. We need to generate solutions and implement them. This is a challenging time for Rice in many ways. Let us step up and show each other, the administration and the broader community that we can meet that challenge. 

Brian Baran is a Duncan College sophomore. 

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